By Natalia Hook
For me, life’s little pleasures include a hot shower, followed by my snuggly polka dot bathrobe. And one of life’s little annoyances is having that shower ruined by a clogged bathtub drain. When you least expect it, plumbing has a way of reminding you all about the unseen pipes you take for granted every day. Within a minute, clearing a drain clog can go from zero to number one on your priority list.
Commercial drain cleaners and decloggers tend to work fast, but are full of questionable chemicals, and you may not always have them on hand. Who wants to head out to pick up Drano for a clogged bathroom sink drain first thing in the morning on your day off? Chances are you already have all the ingredients you need for a few blocked drain home remedies that are simple and eco-friendly. Add a couple of inexpensive tools, and you’re good to go. Fixing a clogged drain without chemicals is easier than you think!
It’s important to know the difference between clogs. Some remedies work better than others in different situations. Kitchen sinks tend to have grease clogged drain problems , while with clogged bathroom sink and tub drains, hair is almost always the culprit. And the toilet? Well, those clogs tend to be a combination of toilet paper wads and “number two.”
Clearing Bathtub and Bathroom Sink Clogs
One home remedy that works well is vinegar and baking soda to clear the drain. Remember grade school science? This combination is a fizz fest, and great for cutting through soap scum and hair clogs. Pour equal parts of baking soda and vinegar down the drain in succession. So, first the baking soda, ½ a cup to a cup, then follow that with the same amount of vinegar. Let it stand for at least a few hours, overnight is even better. After the standing period, follow it up with a kettle or pot of hot water from the stove for a good flush out. Finally, run the tap hot for a minute or two once it’s clear to make sure all the baking soda residue gets washed away.
If waiting around for your cure to work isn’t an option, go with a tool-based plan of attack. In my arsenal there are two choices, the plunger and the Drain Weasel. The plunger is a tried and true method of unclogging the toilet, and you are pretty likely to have one in your home. Yes, you can use a toilet plunger in your tub or sink, and yes, you will want to give your sink or tub a good soapy scrub afterwards.
When using a plunger to clear a tub or sink drain, the principle is the same as when clearing a toilet. You want to create a strong seal with strong suction and force the water in the pipes to push the clog free. And guess what? You might be doing it wrong.
To get that maximum push, your plunger has to be filled with water. If you pop it over your drain in an empty sink or bathtub, or one with very little standing water, it’s full of air. It’s not going to seal well, and pushing a little bit of air against a lot of water isn’t very forceful. Fill up the sink or bathtub with enough water to submerge the head of the plunger, then put it in, and plunge a couple times to fill it.
Now settle it over the drain and press down to create a strong seal. You should feel resistance when you pull up on the handle. Plunge up and down quickly to force water through the drain and clear the clog. This can be repeated as many times as necessary. Sometimes a clog will dislodge but need a couple more plunges to move down and out through the pipe. In order to keep sufficient suction, add more water if the drain is moving slowly and you need to plunge again.
And what was that second option I mentioned? The Drain Weasel? If you’ve never heard of it, prepare to be enlightened. Most people know what a drain snake is: an extendable tool that gets rammed down a pipe to break up clogs. It comes in different sizes, and usually requires some drain and/or pipe disassembly to be used — a royal pain. A snake doesn’t fit down the tiny holes on your tub drain cover, or around the pop-up assembly in your bathroom sink drain. But the Drain Weasel does.
It’s basically a long, supple plastic wand attached to a tiny hand crank. The tip of the wand is stiff and bristled, specifically to grab onto hair. Like its namesake, the Weasel can fit anywhere. Three-millimeter hole on a drain cover? No problem! Down it goes!
Turn the crank a few times, and the hair in the clog winds around the bristly end of the wand. Pull it back up and out. Just take care not to crank too many times and end up with a hair wad that won’t fit back up through your drain entry. Two or three weasel excavations usually gets the drain as clean as a whistle in about five minutes. No need to fill the sink to plunge, and just rinse when you’re done.
You can even buy refill wands. They are “disposable,” but I put on the muck gloves I use for gardening, clear the grimy hair off the end of the wand, rinse, and reuse. I’ve used the same one half a dozen times in the last year. Oh, and they cost about four bucks. I got mine at Bed Bath & Beyond. Know what else I got there? A cute starfish bathtub drain cover to keep out as much hair as possible. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Clearing a Toilet Clog
Ah yes. The toilet — every home’s most taken for granted modern amenity. No one thinks about the toilet until there’s a problem, and then it’s a full-fledged emergency.
In my experience, the best thing to unclog a toilet is a plunger. When using a toilet plunger in the toilet, the extendable part that can be folded up into the head of the plunger should NOT be folded up. It should be extended and pressed into the drain exit of the toilet when plunging. This is the best fit, and thus the best seal that you can get. (The extendable portion is folded up when using the plunger on a sink or tub drain.)
Put some muscle behind it and be prepared for splash over. It’s a good idea to have a couple towels at the base of the toilet. As with a sink clog, you may have to perform a succession of plunges to dislodge and clear a toilet clog. If you need to clear a toilet clog without a plunger RIGHT NOW because you don’t own a plunger, keep reading. And get your gloves. And a bucket.
If your toilet is backed up and full to the top of the bowl, or worse yet, has overflowed, all may be disgusting, but it is not lost. Even if you are plungerless, there is hope. Get a container that you never, ever want to use for food, and use it to scoop the water out of the toilet into a bucket. Get it as low as you can.
Now, squeeze about ¼ cup of dish soap into the toilet and follow that up with a kettle or good sized pot of hot water. Don’t use boiling water! It can crack your toilet bowl. Be patient and wait about ten minutes. The hot water will break up compacted wads of toilet paper and “number two,” while the soap lubricates everything and helps it move out more easily through the plumbing.
Now, flush the toilet. It should be all clear. If you only get a partial clearing (water flushes out weakly and incompletely,) repeat the entire process a second time. If you are still not getting the all clear, it may be time to get a plunger and/or call a plumber. In some specific cases, such as an object, or clay cat litter being flushed down the toilet, a snake or pipe disassembly will likely be needed. So watch your kids, and dump that litter in garbage!
Although bathroom drain clogs are definitely a pain in the… elbow, you should now be well equipped to deal with any that come your way. And the best thing about all these home remedies? They don’t have the negative environmental impact that chemical drain cleaners do-- and the low impact on your wallet is an extra bonus!
Images used with permission, courtesy of Natalia Hook